religious subtext

Do I Still Agree With Myself?

INTRO

Since creating this website in 2013, my writing and analytical ability have developed past that displayed in many early posts, and my views and understanding of the world and many of the works I’ve covered have changed. This often niggles me, and I’ve considered deleting some posts, leaving what I consider my best, but as they’re still popular and serve as a testament to how much I’ve accomplished over the years, I’ve instead decided to create this post. I’ll be reviewing my past posts, seeing what I still agree with and what I don’t, and clarifying my current views. Who knows, maybe this will turn into an ongoing series as my perspectives are constantly evolving, and there may be other posts I discover I have issue with!

EAT THE GUN

The motivation behind this post was to praise economical writing and the song’s use of it. However, due to the lyrical content I’m examining, it could come across like I’m critical of the armed forces. I’m not, but at the time, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about going along with someone who was. I have no great knowledge or strong opinions about the military, but I’m greatly admiring of anyone willing to make a sacrifice in aid of others.

ALIEN EQUALITY (THE ALIEN FRANCHISE)

I don’t believe now the creators of Alien (dir. Scott, 1979) intended to criticise female empowerment, and I don’t think I believed it at the time. There’s actually a stronger argument for exactly the opposite, and aspects of the film I focus on can all be reinterpreted to support this. We do indeed see a future society without gender divides, and it works out pretty well as the strong female character, Ripley, ends up saving the day; it’s only because the male crew ignored her quarantine command that they got into trouble in the first place. The alien, symbolic of man’s bestial sexual nature, turns the male crew into victims of sexual violence, in ways previously beyond their comprehension; one even experiencing a painful childbirth as a result. The porno mag scene is clearly designed to be critical of female exploitation and sexual violence; the rabid Ash, spewing white goo, forcing the phallic magazine down Ripley’s throat. And although we do see Ripley strip to her skimpy undies for the climax, it’s revealed it’s shot from the perspective of the alien, forcing the male audience ogling Ripley to realise their connection with the beast.

As mentioned in the post, this analysis was inspired by my recent discovery of viewing films through the lens of feminism, and I believe I was motivated more by my desire to explore this exciting new way of looking at films than I was with making a genuine exposé. This is also a symptom of university essay writing, which encourages analysis based on interpretation rather than fact. If you can justify it via your own interpretation of the screen language, it’s acceptable, whether you believe it was the filmmakers’ true intention or not. I don’t have a problem with this, in fact, I’m all for it! Finding connections and meanings in films that weren’t necessarily the filmmakers’ intention is half the fun of analysis. You can get into trouble, though, if you’re stringently critical of filmmakers for meanings in their films you’ve created yourself. I’d like to avoid ever coming across like this in future.

Aliens (dir. Cameron, 1986) does indeed reward Ripley with a family, symbolically returning her to the role of loving wife and mother. I don’t believe now, though, that this has to be viewed negatively. She’s never once depicted as weak in comparison to her male counterparts or shown she doesn’t belong in the heat of the action; quite the opposite. She draws strength from her maternal instincts, as male action heroes often have from their paternal ones (protecting family, being rewarded with one; common action movie tropes: see Mad Max), and this is to be commended. You maybe wouldn’t want ‘independent woman becomes wife and mother’ to be the plot of every action movie, but I don’t think there’s anything sexist about it here.

I think I make some good points in my analysis of Alien 3 (dir. Fincher, 1992) – an underrated film – in particular, recognising its depiction of a patriarchal society and rape culture; there’s depth to this film that’s often overlooked. There are a few points that were maybe just my own interpretation, tying together the overall point of the post, and not the director’s intention (the symbolism of Ripley’s sacrifice for example), but as I said earlier, that’s half the fun of analysis!

STRANGER, DARKER, MADDER… (LOVE & MONSTERS)

My analysis of how Love & Monsters criticises fans who have a very inflexible view of what Doctor Who should be comes across a bit hypocritically intolerant. That was not my intent. I would never want to suggest people aren’t entitled to an opinion, more that people who are unwilling to accept the greater possibilities of what Doctor Who (and life) can be are missing out on a lot of strangeness, darkness, and madness!

JUST ONE MAN CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

In the first of my Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) posts, I posited that, despite their misleading appearance, the Marauders have more in common with traditional society, and the Settlers have more in common with the counterculture, but it is their more traditional beliefs that are their weakness. I think now, rather than representing any particular group, more simply, the Marauders represent what Miller considers the evil of humanity, and the Settlers, the good. The Marauders rape, war, pillage, they operate via a dictatorship, and they’re stuck in a cycle of selfish consumption. They lack a higher purpose and a desire to better themselves, which the Settlers have, along with democracy and a sense of community, family, and loyalty. The Settlers’ connection to self-sufficiency ties them with the counterculture (Pappagallo is a bit of an old hippie) but that’s more to do with the film’s criticism of fossil fuels (such an ironic theme) than an attempt to connect them with a particular group, and they possess many traditional qualities. Max is tempted over to their side and away from the marauding lifestyle once he’s given a purpose and a chance to better himself. The fact he’s betrayed – although he doesn’t seem too bothered about this – does add some ambiguity to the Settlers, but I don’t believe it’s their traditional beliefs that are being called into question. Perhaps, instead, it acts as a warning that although we require purpose in life, devotion to a cause can sometimes cloud one’s morality. I posited that the Settlers’ traditional community values give them a distrust of outsiders that prevents them from truly accepting the marauder-like Max and that their religious conviction leads to their act of betrayal. I no longer believe this. Their initial distrust of Max is just a logical reaction, and their belief in paradise and Max’s martyrdom does not act as a criticism of religion, rather an endorsement of purpose and sacrifice and the spiritual power of storytelling.

GEORGE MILLER: there’s something that compels us collectively as human beings to find meaning in the universe. I mean, we can’t exist without that. And we do it through stories and narratives in order to explain the universe to ourselves. Or life to ourselves. And in all cultures across all time and space as humankind, we do that. We do that spontaneously. And I think that’s the function of storytelling, and some stories are so compelling, they become mythologies and indeed religions.”

IF WE CAN’T STICK TOGETHER (MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME)

In my Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985) post, I posited that it ‘also’ acts as a criticism of traditional (Western) society. I was closer to the truth in this case as it does offer a blatant critique of capitalism and seemingly supports a Marxist philosophy. However, knowing little of economics or politics at the time (I’m still far from an expert), but having done a little research into Marxism, I was quick to side with this critique without pinpointing any possible flaws. For example, we see those at the bottom of the hierarchy offered no payment for their services and no opportunity to climb the ladder. Not really reflective of capitalism. This lack of opportunity for social mobility, and the fact Pig Killer and his ilk are working solely in service of the state, arguably aligns Bartertown more closely with communism. Either way, as I’ve mentioned, economics and politics are not my expertise, so I’ll keep away from siding with political ideologies, as I did here and in other posts, in future (certainly not before doing more research). The film also offers a more pointed criticism of religion, suggesting it can halt social progress. However, Savannah’s final monologue, again, endorses the spiritual power of storytelling, and the fact the Lost Tribe reach ‘paradise’ by plane, hints that there may have been some truth in their prophecies.

HOMOPHOBIC HORROR

This was a piece of coursework written in the final year of my degree that I later posted on my website. It again suffers from the university essay ‘interpretation over fact’ philosophy. It’s unquestionable that Strangers on a Train (dir. Hitchcock, 1951) and Psycho (dir. Hitchcock, 1960) used homosexuality and transvestism to enhance their killers’ perversion, that Strangers’ protagonist, Guy, was a prototype final girl, and that these films, as well as real-life killers, had a huge influence on the slasher genre and its continuing characterisation of homosexuals and transvestites as deranged deviants. However, I don’t believe for one second and didn’t at the time that every final girl is symbolically a male in the midst of a sexual crisis. The concept just allowed for a new spin on the material that would make an interesting essay; much like my Alien analysis.

HOPE & FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

As they were based on interpretations of the earlier movies that I now disagree with, my hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) now, on the whole, don’t reflect what I’d be hoping for from a new Mad Max movie. I’m not particularly interested in the series giving direct criticisms of capitalism (or the rock industry. Where did that one come from?), more human ills in general. I’m not sure why I was hoping for a clearer critique of the military, having no strong opinions about it (see Eat the Gun). I suspect I’d just foreseen the possibility of this happening and felt I should include it. I was hoping for feminist themes (my obsession at the time) criticising female oppression, and again I unfairly criticise heroines with maternal instincts (see Alien Equality). Again, a more rounded view of humanity’s ills would be appreciated today. I enjoy the religious symbolism of the series and its contemplations on the spiritual power of storytelling and would always hope for their inclusion. However, while criticism of religious extremism and manipulation are alright with me, I would not hope for a negative depiction of religion in general. Ponderings on the afterlife are, again, alright with me, but I’m not sure why I was seeking a definitive statement on Miller’s belief in the existence of Heaven or Hell; I’d prefer a little more ambiguity these days. Today I’d give a big ‘no’ to the possibility of any romantic relationship for Max. Giving him a partner or a family would undermine the self-sacrificing nature of his character; unless they were planning on ending the series. Lastly, I’m still in total agreement with myself that CGI and an overly talky Max have no place in the franchise!

MAD MAX

In my Mad Max (dir. Miller, 1979) post, I describe it as my least favourite of the original trilogy due to its morally questionable material. I suggest its depiction of Toecutter’s gang vilifies the counterculture, while Max’s job as a cop suggests support for the establishment. I now disagree with this. The gang, like the Marauders, more likely represent the evils of humanity, with their lawlessness and purposeless self-indulgence. While Max and his job represent moral duty, and law and order; hardly things to be criticised. The gang’s homosexual characterisation is questionable as it bears similarities to the previously mentioned slasher killers, being used to heighten their perversion. However, there is the argument that the use of gay characters is meant to represent a sexually liberated future, with Max’s commanding officer, Fifi, also characterised as gay. I label Fifi’s characterisation as stereotypical, but he is a unique and memorable character, in a respected position, traditionally held by straight, masculine males, so that was perhaps a little unfair. I also cite Max’s traditional family life being presented as the ideal in comparison to the homosexual gang as being problematic. This argument is weakened when we consider the defence of the gang’s homosexual characterisation and the true themes of the trilogy, purpose and betterment. Max’s family are representative of this as are the surrogate families in the sequels he’s given the chance to help and protect (as he failed to do with his), showing the series is rightly supportive of families and the protective nature of the parental figure (see Alien Equality). I was also critical of the film’s grim ending, but as this is clearly presented as a tragedy, it is in no way morally corrupt, and actually makes the message harder hitting, as seeing our hero (and identification figure) losing his purpose in life, and giving into the gang culture and survival of the fittest philosophy, makes it easier for us to empathise with the film’s themes. Far from being morally bankrupt, Mad Max contains many admirable moral messages and has gone up in my estimations to become my second favourite of the series (nothing can top Mad Max 2).

A further note on the fridging of Max’s wife, Jessie, and fridging in general. I referred to Jessie’s death as an example of fridging at odds with the feminism of the sequels. Fridging is used to describe instances in which a female character close to a male one is killed to further his arc. I now believe to describe Jessie’s death and every instance of this trope as sexist is a little ridiculous. Characters (male and female) close to protagonists are killed off all the time to symbolise themes and further the protagonist’s arc; Goose, Max’s dog, Mufasa, Newt, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. It doesn’t automatically make it sexist every time it happens to a female one. After all, it’s not their story, it’s the protagonist’s, and good economical writing dictates it’s they who should be the main focus. Not every support character can have agency, be a hero, and have a happy ending; that would just be a mess. It may be the case that more female characters are fridged than males (but thinking off the top of my head, I mostly came up with males), but rather than being a symptom of inherently sexist writing, that’s probably more to do with the majority of writers being male and creating male heroes, which I don’t think they should be criticised for (good writers write what they know). More female filmmakers and writers would probably reverse this trend (if indeed it exists; I haven’t seen the stats). Jessie, and Max’s love for her, are symbolic of purpose and betterment, and the lose of the positive influence of a woman in Max’s life is presented as a complete tragedy. Male writers should be praised for viewing women in such a way, not criticised.

ONLY FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Much I disagree with here. My central argument is that Furiosa should have been the only wife of Immortan Joe as the Five Wives are superfluous, lacking character and agency, which reduces them to figures of objectification; contradicting the feminist themes of the film. This thinking is based on the rules of economical writing – don’t use any more characters than you need to – but I now see why the Wives are needed and where their agency lies. While Furiosa possesses a lot of agency, if she were the only wife, she’d resemble little more than your stereotypical rape-revenge heroine, and while the Wives don’t do any of the kick-ass fighting, their agency is that of endurance. They have survived abuse through endurance and had the bravery to decide to seek help and flee their captor; it is they who set the whole plot in motion, not Furiosa. The implication being, abused women shouldn’t have to be kick-ass fighters to be seen as heroes; there’s bravery in endurance and having the will to escape oppression. It’s true they wear skimpy clothing, opening them up for objectification, but the scene I cite where they’re washing each other with the hose is shot from Max’s perspective, inviting the male audience to ogle them, connecting them with the oppressive male characters of the film. It’s the same trick from Alien, and arguably it’s used throughout. I still think as characters they’re underdeveloped and doing more than just giving one of them a weak love story would probably have been a good idea. Speaking of which, I still totally agree that Nux’s sacrifice is uninteresting and we would have connected with it more if it were given to Max. I’m not sure about cutting Max altogether and making this a Furiosa film, it probably could have worked, but having male and female characters learn to work together is a more positive way to go.

My statement that the film doesn’t expand much on what we learnt from interviews and trailers is utterly vacant. There’s a great deal going on in the film under the surface, but I think my overall disappointment with it on first viewing meant I just wasn’t looking. Everything we need to know about the world and the characters is shown to us, instead of repeatedly told, which is how it should be. I’ll give a brief summary, but it’d take a whole new post to get everything. It’s another amplification of humanity’s ills. It depicts society as a perpetual war machine, kept going by a power-hungry man (that’s who killed the world) just so he can cling onto power. Women are employed as baby making machines, while the men don’t fare much better, being bred and brainwashed solely for war; willing to die for the glory of their divine leader. Like the Marauders, they’re stuck in a cycle, with no higher purpose or chance for betterment, which is what they’re given via the altruistic actions of our heroes. It’s not on the whole how I view society, but it’s a credible exaggeration of the worst of humanity and certainly a layered depiction. I still prefer the original trilogy with its zero use of CGI and better use of Max, but I’ll gladly admit I was unfairly critical of this first time around.

MISSING MEL (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Never thought this actually could or should’ve happened – I wasn’t campaigning for it – but it would’ve made a cool (possibly better) movie, and if they got the go-ahead ten years earlier, this could be quite close to how it would’ve turned out. As it is, I still think it’s a nice bit of fanwank.

THE MAN WHO CAME FROM THE SKY (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

This post continued the assumptions (I now believe to be incorrect) made in my first Mad Max 2 post about the film’s themes and what Max, the Settlers, and the Marauders represent. I also suggest the Gyro Captain’s ownership of a snake connects him with Satan and reveals him as the true villain of the piece. An interesting but far-fetched analysis, his snake more likely representing his cunning nature, and his minor deceptions hardly paint him as the ultimate evil.

THE LIGHT AND THE DARK (STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY)

I cited its subversion of the ‘women as reward’ trope as something I like about Star Wars (dir. Lucas, 1977), and I still very much like this. However, it’s probably its subversion of the damsel in distress character that’s more appealing. No one likes the whiny damsel in distress, always stumbling into trouble, which makes Leia’s feisty, pistol-packing princess a really enjoyable innovation. The fact she’s not given to one of the male characters as a reward for their heroism is a bonus as it allows for a more unconventional story. It also showed excellent foresight as placing her in a relationship would have dulled the character for the sequel, which is eventually what happened (Leia doesn’t act like Leia in Jedi). I would like to point out, though, that, like fridging (see Mad Max), describing every instance of this trope as sexist would be ridiculous (not that I was doing that). Of course you want strong female characters, but the guy getting the girl doesn’t always equate to sexism. A female love interest may not always be as developed as a male protagonist but, again, it’s not their story, and she may be symbolic of very positive views of women (see Mad Max). Furthermore, female protagonists are given men as reward just as often. Some might consider this sexist, though, as it places them in a traditional gender role (you can’t win sometimes). Viewing films through the lens of feminism can be interesting and is definitely worthwhile, pushing writers to consider subversions of stereotypical characterisations and worn out old tropes. However, it can also be very restrictive, to both creativity and enjoyment, if you are too extreme in your readings.

I offered Han and Leia’s relationship as something I don’t like about The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I asked why does she fall for him as all he seems to do is act in a sexist manner and she seems quite adamant she’s not interested in him? I rewatched Empire before starting this post in a deliberate attempt to find material to counteract this argument but sadly didn’t find much. The first time we see Leia, she’s staring across the room at Han, suggesting feelings for him, but it’s subtle and easily missed or interpreted differently. Han expresses his feelings more openly, being rather sweet and sincere when he goes to say goodbye to her. Leia is very harsh in her response, and in subsequent arguments, Han suggests she is concealing her feelings. However, not much is done to suggest this is true, as she constantly refutes his claims. It also begs the question, why would she do this? Fear of undermining her position, or of falling in love in such difficult times? Possibly, but again, it’s not suggested, as she’s constantly depicted as resistant to Han’s advances. When Han shows concern for her, she pushes him away, and when they finally kiss, he comes across like a real sleaze, forcing himself on her, and she escapes the situation as quick as she can. It’s true she is a bit stuck up and rude and could maybe learn to relax a bit, like Han, but this suggests the theme of the love story is ‘she really wants it, she just needs to loosen up a bit’, and I can’t really defend that. I also criticise Han not telling her he loves her, but more because it shows he hasn’t really changed or done anything to deserve her. The line is definitely better than the alternative, suggesting character and avoiding being mawkish, and the feelings are all expressed visually anyway.

I still don’t like Leia being revealed as Luke’s sister in Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983). It’s a ridiculous coincidence, mainly done for shock value, and doesn’t fit with what we’ve seen and been told so far. However, my criticism that she doesn’t react to the fact Darth Vader is also revealed as her father could be argued against. Her emotional interaction with Han after the revelation suggests distress, and her inability to divulge the truth suggests fear it could endanger her friends. I also state it doesn’t affect the story. This is a major oversight, as it sets up the most crucial moment of the climax; Vader using it against Luke, inciting him to embrace his anger and the dark side. It’s still a very silly twist, though. It would have been better if the other hope for the Jedi that Yoda refers to in Empire was Vader. It is, after all, Vader who kills the Emperor and destroys the dark side. This would show Yoda’s wisdom and strong connection to the Force, knowing there is still hope for Vader, and reveal he was training Luke to turn his father back to good all along (like all his teachings suggest). This is even suggested in the mise-en-scene in Empire as Yoda is surrounded by black and bathed in red (the colours of Vader) just as he delivers the line, “No, there is another.”

CONCLUSION

Well, that, along with finally putting The Darning Needle behind me, was a satisfying purging experience. Now I can get on with bringing you brand new analyses, films, scripts, and other projects in the coming year!

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The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Recent feedback from a friend on my Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) post brought to my attention my disregard of the Gyro Captain’s (Bruce Spence) role in the film. So, in an attempt to compensate, I’m giving him a post all of his own.

We are introduced to the Captain when he captures Max (Mel Gibson) by concealing himself beneath the sand and tempting him with the prospect of gasoline. Max, in turn, is able to outwit and capture the Captain, which sets in motion a game of one-upmanship between them. The Captain’s association with a snake is symbolic of the cunning he displays and his ability to adapt to life in the wasteland but is also connected to the film’s religious themes, as we see him use temptation and treachery in pursuit of his goals.

In contrast to Max – who resembles a Marauder – the Captain attempts to maintain a respectable appearance and employs a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation, making him seem more attuned to the Settlers’ ideals. He sees himself as a gentleman and criticises Max for his lack of ‘style and taste’, evoking certain representations of Satan. If we compare their initial encounters with the Settlers, we see Max is persecuted, while the Captain is accepted and, indeed, respected instantly, due to his transport and air of sophistication (showing the traditional Settlers’ aversion to those who are different).

Both Max and the Captain seem affected by the Settlers’ lifestyle, seemingly abandoning their self-interest to aid the community. But not before Max is hunted down by Wez (Vernon Wells), and the Captain tries to tempt Lusty Girl (Arkie Whiteley) away; his compliance with her refusal suggesting he is warming to the Settlers’ family-like existence. When it is revealed he was complicit in the Settlers’ betrayal of Max, we see he hasn’t changed at all and is merely profiting from the opportunity the alliance provides. It’s possible he even instigated the betrayal, as it is he who returns Max to the compound so the deception can be carried out (speaking demoniacally to the addled Max) and he later returns to gloat upon its success. Like the Settlers, his respectability is merely a cover, and his true selfishness is revealed.

Mad Max 2 uses exaggerated villains to criticise capitalism, politicians and religion, but it is its most subtle villain that prevails. The Captain has the ability to fit in, to pursue his self-interest within the system while maintaining a mask of decency. He does not come across as evil, in fact, he is very likeable – as are many unscrupulous opportunists in our own world, who’re often part of respected organisations and institutions – but, in the end, he proves himself more dangerous than any of the anarchic Marauders.

Max, like myself, ignored the Captain at his peril, believing this was the story of his reformation, while all along he was still embroiled in a game of one-upmanship with the nefarious Captain. The Settlers adopt the Captain as their leader, referring to him as ‘the man who came from the sky’. The title allots him prophet-like status, but while Max’s Christ-like figure is representative of the need for communality, the Captain represents immoral self-interest, showing the Settlers have embraced a false prophet. Max, untrusting of such a society, chooses to remain an outsider.

the-gyro-captain_140335-fli_1374136123

More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max

Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

 

Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Well, I’ve seen it, and overall I was disappointed (and not just with the CGI and terrible narration). I know, I must be the only person in the world, but if you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know I had some pretty high expectations, and the film just failed to deliver on many counts.

My main complaint is with the feminist themes. No, not the same complaint that’s getting all the press attention (note to all the protesting meninists, if you think Mad Max has never had feminist themes, read my post on Beyond Thunderdome). We’re told it is bad to objectify women as Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) does by treating his Five Wives as his property, but the film does nothing else but objectify them. The Wives have no agency, no character. They’re weak, useless victims, there to be protected by Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to add risk to their endeavour, for Nux (Nicholas Hoult) to have a shallow romance with (so we know he’s now a good guy), and to be fetishised by the audience. As my girlfriend said to me, “They had no character, but I liked looking at them.” In the first scene where we see all the Wives together, they are dressed in revealing clothing, their nipples visible, spraying each other with a hose and washing each other’s legs; looking like something out of a low-rent porno (I’m assuming). I understand they’re supposed to represent the kind of women who are fetishised in our own society, but to criticise this, surely they should have been given some sort of character? They are only ever addressed by name (Splendid, Capable, Fragile…) by Joe; pet names I presume he attributed to them because of their sexual characteristics. It would have been nice if they rejected these names and we learnt who they really are. The only female character with any agency is Furiosa. The Many Mothers can kick ass, but they’re basically just there as cannon fodder for the final chase as we aren’t given enough time to connect with them or reason to care about them (like the Wives, I couldn’t name a single one without a Google search). Even Furiosa is hard to sympathise with as her backstory about being kidnapped as a child from the Green Place and wanting to return there is only revealed in the scene directly prior to them arriving there and discovering it’s now a bog. We are then expected to feel sympathy as she breaks down and falls to her knees screaming in an incredibly over the top and pretentious scene. If we’re expected to connect with her and support her struggle, then her goal should be made clear from the very start. The solution to the problems with the Wives and Furiosa is there should have only been one wife, and that should have been Furiosa. This would give her a backstory we could connect with from the start (she was kidnapped as a child from the Green Place to become Joe’s future wife) and give a character that has been objectified back their agency. It would make sense for a victim of such abuse to want to return to a safe childhood place and would make the decision to go back to the Citadel and face her problems, instead of running away, more powerful. Some people may consider it unrealistic that a female victim of such abuse could become such a strong warrior, but I don’t think this issue would even occur to them if applied to a male character.

Five Wives

Despite being presented with a fascinating society, we learnt little more about it than was revealed in interviews and trailers. The Information given about Immortan Joe was not built upon or in some cases even referenced. What happened to his backstory, previously being Colonel Joe Moore? I guess that’ll be in the prequel comic. If it was made clear that Joe was once a military leader, one that was responsible for starting wars over commodities such as oil and water, and through his proliferation of these sins he represents the worst of the old world, then we would have a definitive answer to the repeated question, “who killed the world?” Also, although it’s made clear the War Boys believe that by dying heroically for Joe they will enter the afterlife, the fact he has tricked the populous into believing he is an immortal messiah is not referenced. This oversight significantly lessens the impact when his dead body is presented to his subjects at the conclusion. The main lapse in the religious subtext is in the depiction of Max as a Christ-like figure, as the trait of the previous films of him making a final heroic sacrifice is not included. The plots of the previous two films both involve Max assisting characters to flee a damaged society so they can create a new paradise elsewhere. Subverting this trait by having him decide to return to Joe’s Citadel and help repair that society is superb and counteracts the questionably defeatist attitude of these past conclusions. But once Max makes this decision, the film has no surprises left. Max’s plan is to return to the Citadel, charging through Joe’s war party and blocking the canyon so they cannot pursue. This succeeds, as Nux sacrifices himself by blocking the canyon with the War Rig, causing Joe’s war party to crash into it. Nux’s death is no big surprise, as he is a support character and support characters are killed off for plot convenience all the time. Plus, his reasons for making the sacrifice are shallow compared to Max’s in the previous films as they are motivated by his soulless romance with the Red Headed Wife (sorry, only distinctive thing about her). If Max were to have made the sacrifice, it would have cemented the film’s altruistic themes, with Max acting as a parallel to Joe’s selfish false messiah and selflessly sacrificing himself so a better society can be born. However, Max has less invested in the society than other characters, so what would have made more sense is if Furiosa made the sacrifice (as she was complicit in its wrongdoing). The film really should have been called Furiosa. I’m not saying that sarcastically, Max is superfluous as his goal is the same as hers (to find redemption for past failures by building a better future). Furiosa should have been the only wife; kidnapped as a child, treated as an object all her life but then finding the agency to return home. She would then come to the conclusion (by herself, not have a man make it for her as Max did) that she must face her problems and return to the Citadel. Finally, she would decide to sacrifice herself for the benefit of society instead of taking vengeance on her abuser. That’s the film I believe this should have been.

More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max 

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

There’s not long to wait until Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) hits UK cinemas on May 14th, and recently there’s been an abundance of clips and interviews promoting the film. The original Mad Max films are probably my favourite trilogy, so obviously my expectations are high. I’ve been dissecting every bit of information that’s been released, in the hope of finding evidence that Fury Road will at least come close to living up to the legacy of the previous films. Here’s a summary of my hopes and fears, based upon the information I’ve gathered.

Fury Rd Poster

Both the previous sequels have expanded the saga’s existing themes, making them clearer and counteracting any possible misinterpretations. I’m hoping Fury Road will follow this tradition. Both criticised our capitalist society, and although in Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) this message was confused due to the bad guys’ resemblance to countercultural figures, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985) made its point clear by presenting the bad guys as operating within a hierarchical capitalist system. Fury Road looks set to do the same but offers to present an even more complex system, ruled by a corrupt leader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

GEORGE MILLER: “Immortan Joe, Hugh Keays-Byrne’s character, who is the warlord of the wasteland, he now has a citadel where he controls the water. And then he has Gas Town, that we see from a distance, which supplies the gas. And then there’s Bullet Farm, which supplies their munitions. So it’s an ecology, almost a hermetically sealed ecology. An economy and an ecology in a wasteland.”

Miller has also mentioned how Mad Max 2 was influenced by oil wars and that Fury Road will also present some topical criticisms of world powers fighting over resources.

GEORGE MILLER: People effectively went to war for oil. We arguably have been fighting oil wars ever since. Now, in some places in the world, there are water wars.”

The Mad Max films have comprehensively taken a dim view of war, presenting them as being started by greedy leaderships that selfishly seek commodities and resources, but they have yet to offer a defined opinion of the military. Mad Max 2 hinted that the wicked Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) was ex-military via his possession of a military gun and case, and Miller has revealed a little about his origins.

GEORGE MILLER: “Humungus had been some kind of military man who’d been in a severe accident or explosion and suffered facial or head burns.”

Miller has also suggested that Pappagallo (Michael Preston) was ex-military, but as his morality was presented as ambiguous, this can’t be seen as making any definitive statement. Another Settler, Curmudgeon (Syd Heylen), wears a military uniform, but as the Settlers were at times used to represent outdated institutions, and Curmudgeon was characterised as a senile old man who was also occasionally seen dressed in his pyjamas, it’s possible the military were also meant to be included in this bracket. With the character of Immortan Joe, Fury Road will hopefully define these themes, as he is also an ex-military man, formerly known as Colonel Joe Moore, and is seen wearing medals and military insignia.

Immortan Joe

In the past, the saga has promoted gender equality by attempting to present a society where the sexes are equal, featuring strong, free-willed, female characters like the Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey) and Savannah Nix (Helen Buday). It has also touched upon objectification and oppression of women by criticising women being used as commodities and the story of Adam and Eve promoting the suppression of woman’s knowledge. Fury Road promises that these gender equality themes will come to the fore. The latest trailer reveals the plot centres around a female character, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), freeing five women known as the Five Wives from the captivity of Immortan Joe, who is using them as sex slaves to bear his children. The trailer shows the Wives repeatedly screaming at Joe, “We are not things”, vandalising their prison with these words, and cutting the locks of their chastity belts once they’re freed, and Joe, upon discovering they’re missing, yelling, “Where is she taking them? I want them back! They’re my property!” It’s clear from the released footage that Furiosa is one tough character. She is seen to be involved in a lot of the action; driving the huge War Rig, saving Max’s (Tom Hardy) life by grabbing hold of him as he falls out of the vehicle, and headbutting bad guys. Her name also suggests her hardened nature, and possibly her origins, imperator meaning general in Latin and furiosa being Portuguese for furious. Along with her name, the fact we see her being branded with Joe’s mark of a burning skull, which also features on the War Rig along with her mark of a skeleton arm, indicates she was once a general under his command but turned traitor due to issues with his treatment of the Wives and decided to rescue them and flee in the War Rig. Miller has said, I don’t think anyone’s ever seen anything quite like (Furiosa) in cinema before”. A strong statement considering the tough women we’ve seen in sci-fi in the past. However, it has to be said that many of these tough sci-fi women draw their strength from maternal instincts (Ripley, Sarah Connor), which connects them with traditional female roles, or are overly sexualised, their strength existing more for its fetishistic appeal to the male audience than for female empowerment (Black Widow). So let’s hope Miller strays away from these conventions. It’s possible Miller is not only referring to Furiosa’s gender but also her disability, as she possesses an artificial arm. Beyond Thunderdome could perhaps be criticised for presenting disabled people as helpless, as Master (Angelo Rossitto) and Blaster (Paul Larsson) are unable to operate without the other’s assistance. Furiosa is clearly a disabled character who is more than capable of looking after herself.

Furiosa Disabled

Immortan Joe is seen to derive his power from manipulating religious superstition; tricking the masses into thinking he was brought back from the dead. This suggests a more blatantly negative depiction of religion than in the previous films. Mad Max 2 presented the religious Settlers in a mostly positive light: their religion leading to social progress. In Beyond Thunderdome, the fact that members of the Lost Tribe make it to their Tomorrow-Morrow Land, in a sense fulfilling their prophecy, could be misinterpreted as pro-religion by people not realising it is the rejection of their religion that led them to progress. Max’s (Mel Gibson) characterisation as a Christ-like figure could also be misunderstood by people not appreciating the message that he makes his altruistic sacrifices despite being just a man. Joe’s false resurrection suggests he could be cast as a Christ-like figure of a different nature. Plus, in the latest trailer, we hear him preach to his followers that they will only enter the afterlife through him: his words imitating those of Christ.

IMMORTAN JOE: “It is by my hand…you will rise…from the ashes…of this world.”

JESUS CHRIST: “I AM THE LIVING GOD, The Way and The Truth and The Life; no man comes to my Father but by me alone.”

We also again see Max presented as a Christ-like figure, as he is seen in a Christ-like pose, chained to the front of an enemy vehicle. It could be possible that like Wez (Vernon Wells) in Mad Max 2, Joe presents a dark parallel to Max, representing religion’s power to be used for corruption, manipulation and power seeking, while Max, as always, promotes charity, communal spirit and sacrifice, but rejects deification. The character of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), it seems, is also being used to expand the religious critique. The previous films, presenting the good guys as being in search of paradise, could easily be misinterpreted as praising the concept of seeking a glorious afterlife, even though Beyond Thunderdome’s intended message was for us to build our own paradise here on Earth. Nux is initially an antagonist, being one of Joe’s best pursuit riders; a group of drivers who are willing to sacrifice themselves for his cause. The trailers even feature one of these pursuit riders acting as a suicide bomber, possibly acting as a criticism of religious extremism. Nux is sent to chase down Max and Furiosa, and according to Miller, “(Nux’s) looking for a glorious death in battle, in the hopes of a sweet afterlife.” In the trailers, we see Max carrying an unconscious Nux on his shoulders after rescuing him from a crash, and promotional pictures show Nux joins the good guys. This could mean that after not experiencing the afterlife during a near-death experience and being shown kindness by Max, when none was shown by him, Nux has been taught to appreciate and make the most of the life he has now. As trailers reveal the film will also include the past plot thread of Max losing his family, it’s possible Max could be taught the same, and this could be a main theme. Nux’s journey would be similar to that of members of the Lost Tribe, but him actually acknowledging he saw no afterlife would be the most direct statement on the existence of Heaven the saga has ever made.

One of the main criticisms of Mad Max 2 is that the appearance of the deviant Marauders – they’re decked out in BDSM gear, with Mohawk haircuts, and two are in a homosexual relationship – could be seen as criticising homosexuality and the punk movement. This was never Miller’s intention, and there are ways Fury Road could rectify this. It would be great to see a positive depiction of a homosexual character and Nux seems the most suitable option. It’s possible such feelings could be suppressed under Immortan Joe’s tyrannical religious regime, and this could provide Nux with a motivation to join the pursuit riders; hoping the afterlife would offer him a better existence. Having him join the good guys, who’re excepting of him, would provide a positive message. I think the fact Miller is a known rock music enthusiast, and his casting of punk icon Angry Anderson in Beyond Thunderdome, has proven he has no beef with the punk movement, but a direct criticism of what he believes are the failings of the rock industry could help make his feelings clear once and for all. His favourite band is the highly political Midnight Oil, which could suggest he’s not a fan of the more excessive and indulgent aspects of rock. One of the bad guys in Fury Road is seen atop a vehicle stacked high with amps, wielding a guitar flamethrower similar to that used by Gene Simmons of Kiss. This could be criticising the self-indulgent excesses of rock, or perhaps it’s simply been done because it looks totally badass.

Flamethrower Guitar

So far, I’ve taken a positive look at what’s been revealed, but there are definitely some aspects that don’t look too promising. The latest trailer features an extended monologue from Max, which suggests Tom Hardy will have more dialogue than Mel Gibson had in the last two films combined. Not only that, but what he says is pretentious, self-pitying crap, greatly reminiscent of Nolan’s Batman (Christian Bale). Max does not need to imitate other heroes, and he never needed words for us to know what he was all about, so I’m really hoping this talking is limited to the trailer and won’t feature at all in the film. Another concern is the chance of a romantic relationship between Max and Furiosa. There’s little evidence that this will occur, but my girlfriend’s convinced, and they are standing very close together in some promotional images. A romantic interest for Max, if done right, could be very effective, but disastrous if done badly. The Marauders’ sadomasochistic gear and sexual excess, the Settlers’ conservative relationships, and the fact that Max has remained asexual since the loss of his traditional family in the first movie could imply the saga has a very prudish view of sexual relationships. Continuing to criticise treating sex as a commodity, introducing a homosexual character and sexualising Max could turn all this around. On the other hand, a clichéd romance, featuring the strong, independent Furiosa being tamed by the dominant Max, would have a really negative effect on the film’s gender equality theme, as well as incorporating a conventional trope into a hitherto unconventional saga.

OMG! They’re almost holding hands! Gross!

OMG! They’re almost holding hands! Gross!

So far, I’ve dealt with character, story and thematic issues, but probably my greatest concern with the film is its visuals. Although it’s been promised in interviews that there’s been minimal computer-generated tinkering, the trailers tell a different story.

INTERVIEWER: “So it’s still very real? You’re not using CGI cars or anything like that?”

GEORGE MILLER: “No, there’s no CGI like that.”

INTERVIEWER: “Good for you.”

GEORGE MILLER: “There’s a CGI storm, because there’s no other way you can create it, but everything else you see is real. Every car stunt is real.”

No CGI you say?

No CGI, you say?

Sorry, George, but that’s bull. I can tell the difference between a real explosion and a cartoon one. I recall Spielberg and Lucas saying similar things before the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (dir. Spielberg, 2008), and we all saw how that animated feature turned out. By comparing the teaser trailer and the final trailer, we can also see that scenery and numerous cars have been added to shots, and the colours have been greatly oversaturated, giving the film the look of a comic book (which the story initially started out as). The cars could have been filmed for real and just superimposed into the same shot together, but it’s this kind of trickery that I fear will take away from the realism and make us feel less involved, which was never a concern when watching the gritty action of the original trilogy.

After Before

These issues aside, Fury Road promises to stay faithful to the original trilogy but set itself apart by telling its own story and expanding the saga’s existing themes, as I’d hoped. The last entry, Beyond Thunderdome, despite expanding the saga’s existing themes, lacked the action and efficiency of Mad Max 2, due partly to its segmented plot. Miller has said that Fury Road will be “almost a continuous chase”, so action will not be sacrificed for story. It also offers to present action like we’ve never seen before, with bad guys attached to poles on the back of vehicles battling with Max as they swing back and forth; an innovation that could rival the Thunderdome fight scene. With the offer of non-stop action and the most richly thematic story of the saga so far, Fury Road could be Mad Max’s greatest adventure yet.

More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Mad Max

Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985) further expands the Mad Max saga’s existing themes. Again, we see Max (Mel Gibson) encounter two differing societies; Bartertown – whose civilisation has inherited many of the failings of our own – and the innocent Lost Tribe. While the Marauders, the bad guys from Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981), could be mistaken for members of the counterculture, here the antagonists’ connection to the establishment is made clear. Bartertown operates via a hierarchical structure, consisting of three social classes that literally and figuratively live on different levels. At the top, representing the elite, is Aunty Entity (Tina Turner). Having built Bartertown, she is its ruler and lives in a luxury palace, towering high above the other townspeople. Although she lives a leisurely life, she receives the most rewards, being provided with air conditioning, clean water, fresh fruit, music and servants. At the bottom, representing the proletariat, are the workers of Underworld; a pig farm beneath Bartertown where methane from pig faeces is used to fuel the town. The conditions are horrible, the workers are literally living in shit, and although they endure the most and it is their hard work that gives the town its power, they have the least. Between the two are the traders, who buy and sell goods and services in a large marketplace on the surface. Max arrives in Bartertown with nothing, having had his camels and vehicle stolen from him by Jedediah (Bruce Spence), who he has tracked there. To the Collector (Frank Thring), who admits people to Bartertown, this renders Max useless.

THE COLLECTOR: “People come here to trade. Make a little profit, do a little business. Got nothing to trade, you got no business in Bartertown.

Aunie

In Bartertown, people’s worth is estimated by the value of their commodities. People who have no commodities cannot survive within the system, like Pig Killer (Robert Grubb), who is forced to kill a pig to feed his family and is branded and sentenced to a life shovelling shit in Underworld. Comparisons are drawn between Bartertown and our capitalist society. The sign above the town entrance resembles a company slogan: ‘BARTERTOWN – HELPING BUILD A BETTER TOMORROW’. And Dr. Dealgood (Edwin Hodgeman) auctions Max’s camels using the language of a used car salesman (“800 miles to the gallon. They’ve got independent suspension, power steering. Ride ’em away now”). The capitalist system Bartertown has adopted is presented as encouraging immoral self-interest (The first trader Max meets lies to him, trying to sell him radioactive water), preying on the poor, benefiting the rich and promoting a survival of the fittest mentality. Human beings are also used as commodities. Traders hold people in chains, and when Max offers to trade his skills to the Collector, he’s rudely informed, “the brothel’s full”.

Pig Killer

Master Blaster (Angelo Rossitto/Paul Larsson) runs Underworld operating as a single unit. Master is the brains, but having dwarfism, being only 2’11”, he is physically weak. Blaster is the brawn but is mentally vulnerable, having Down’s syndrome. However, this fact is concealed as his face is covered by a helmet. Master Blaster rebels against Aunty’s unjust rulership by cutting off all power until she admits they run Bartertown. Master Blaster acts as a criticism of Bartertown’s inequality and its survival of the fittest mentality. Master is lacking physically and Blaster mentally but working together they can help each other thrive; one without the other would be exploited by Bartertown’s system. In another expansion of the themes of Mad Max 2, we see that established society has laws (unlike the anarchic Marauders). However, the elite are more than willing to corrupt them for their own gain, as we see when Aunty hires Max to kill Blaster in exchange for the return of his camels and vehicle. Max works within the laws of Bartertown by starting an argument with Master Blaster so their dispute can be settled in Thunderdome, a gladiatorial arena where conflicts are resolved through a fight to the death, similar to those used by the Roman Empire; linking capitalism with imperialism. Max defeats Blaster, but after his helmet is knocked off and it’s revealed he has Down’s syndrome, he refuses to kill him and reveals Aunty hired him as an assassin. Thunderdome resembles our own media, specifically game shows. Flashing neon lights read, ‘Thunderdome Live!’, Aunty announces, “Welcome to another edition of Thunderdome!”, and Max’s fate is decided by the spin of a wheel of fortune. The people of Bartertown are controlled via a combination of written law and media manipulation. Aunty, like a corrupt politician, uses this to avoid punishment, claiming, whether right or wrong, Max has broken their agreement, and citing the law, “Bust a deal, face the wheel.” The brainless masses, oblivious to the manipulation, accept the law as if they have no choice, chanting it in monosyllabic unison. The unfairness of the justice system is shown as Max’s fate is decided by the spin of a wheel (“You take your chances with the law. Justice is only a roll of the dice, a flip of the coin, a turn…of the wheel”). In showing compassion towards Blaster, Max proves he cannot operate within Bartertown’s exploitative system and is banished. While Master, now separated from Blaster, is powerless and becomes a slave, just like Pig Killer.

Thunderdome

Left for dead in the wastelands, Max is rescued by the Lost Tribe; a group of young adults and children who live in a desert oasis. The Settlers being primarily characterised as the good guys in Mad Max 2 could be misinterpreted as endorsing conservative religious values and their search for paradise as suggesting religious ideals can lead to social progress. Like the Settlers, the Lost Tribe resemble a religious order. They sing choral hymns, possess sacred relics, carry out rituals that restate their beliefs, and are waiting for a messiah to lead them to paradise. Unlike the Settlers, their faith has led them to stagnate, as awaiting their messiah’s guidance has robbed them of their agency and prevented them from progressing. When Max arrives, they mistake him for their messiah, Captain Walker, who they believe will lead them to their paradise, Tomorrow-Morrow Land. Like the Settlers, the validity of their faith is mocked, as they are a cargo cult, children of the passengers of a plane that crashed fleeing the apocalypse, and their mistaken beliefs are based on artefacts from the crash and memories from infancy, such as the plane’s pilot, Captain Walker, and Sydney, the city they originated from. Max falls unconscious upon his arrival but the Lost Tribe, desperate for his guidance, attribute godlike abilities to him, suggesting he could be communicating with them telepathically. When he awakens and is unable to understand what is expected of him, they use religious terminology, believing he is ‘testing them’, showing they are unwilling to progress without hearing the word of their god. Max refutes his divinity and the existence of paradise and insists the Lost Tribe stay where they are; knowing the dangers they face if they leave, fearing they could come across Bartertown. There is a division formed within the tribe. Some, led by Slake (Tom Jennings), still wish to follow Max’s word and stay. However, a small faction, led by Savannah (Helen Buday), realise Max is mortal (“He ain’t no different to us”), accuse Slake and his followers of closed-mindedness (“Programme! All of you programme”), and wish to leave in search of knowledge and progress, despite the dangers.

SAVANNAH: “Nobody’s saying it ain’t a hard slog. We knows that now. But if we wants the knowing and the doing of things, there ain’t no easy ride.”

Beyond Thunderdome criticises sexism within religious texts, subverting the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise by criticising man’s desire to stay faithful to God and live in paradise in ignorance, and praising woman for seeking knowledge and enlightenment.

Lost Tribe

Max initially prevents Savannah and her followers leaving, even going as far as physically assaulting her; a symbol of the brutal effect of God and man’s oppression of woman. Despite this abuse, they are still determined and escape while he is sleeping and he ventures after them. After he rescues them from a quicksand pit, they come across Bartertown and sneak inside to steal transportation. They rescue the enslaved Pig Killer and Master, who help them escape in a train that is the centre of Bartertown’s generator, and the proletarian revolution causes the destruction of Bartertown by smashing the machinery of capitalism. They are pursued by Aunty and her warriors, swapping the train for Jedediah’s plane halfway through the chase, and Max reclaims his vehicle from one of the warriors. Face to face with the enemy, there is not enough runway between them to take off. Consequently, Max again sacrifices himself, crashing his vehicle into the oncoming warriors, leaping to safety and clearing a path for the plane (shifting from a God-like figure to a Christ-like figure). The plane makes it to the ruins of Sydney, where a new society is formed based on Max’s altruism, in the spirit of Master Blaster’s cooperation, and in opposition to the exploitation of Pig Killer. A society that like the Lost Tribe reveres stories, but not of heroes and messiahs, but of the deeds of ordinary people. A society that’s learnt from the past so it can build a better future, a paradise, where the city lights are lit to guide those who have nothing to a life beyond exploitation, a life of equality and communal spirit.

SAVANNAH: “Time counts and keeps countin’. And we knows now, finding the trick of what’s been and lost ain’t no easy ride. But that’s our track. We gotta travel it. And there ain’t nobody knows where it’s gonna lead. Still ‘n’ all, every night we does the tell so that we ‘member who we was and where we came from. But most of all we ‘members the man who finded us, him that came the salvage. And we lights the city. Not just for him but for all of ’em that are still out there. ‘Cause we knows there’ll come a night…when they sees the distant light…and they’ll be comin’ home.”

The Lights

More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max

Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

The post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) presents us with two differing societies formed from the ashes of our own world; the Settlers, who are refining oil within their protected compound, and the Marauders, who desire the oil and are laying siege to the compound. The Settlers present a more traditional way of living (or at least a more idealistically traditional way of living). They are referred to as a family, and this is proven through their care and respect for one another, e.g. Lusty Girl’s (Arkie Whiteley) unwillingness to abandon the compound when she is given the opportunity to escape, the sorrow shown when members die and the concern when they are injured. They also have a father figure in Pappagallo (Michael Preston), whose name is indicative of his position (papa), and who leads democratically; convincing everyone of his plans before decisions are made and holding meetings to discuss issues. Dressed in wholesome white clothing, they also resemble a religious order, and their desire to leave the squalor of the wasteland in search of paradise is comparable to a religious belief. At one point, we see a Settler lose faith in their cause (“You’d die for a pipe dream”) and another, the Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey), defends it, referring to it as a belief (“We fight for a belief”). Although the validity of their faith is mocked – the basis being picture postcards of an idyllic coastal resort, presumably long gone since the advent of the apocalypse – their beliefs inspire them to work together to achieve their goal; the implication being that religious ideals promote communality and social progress.

Settlers

The Marauders present a more anarchic way of life. In contrast to the Settlers’ family unit, they behave more like a gang, acting aggressively towards each other and mocking weaker members’ misfortune, such as when the Toadie (Max Phipps) loses his fingers. Sporting Mohawk haircuts and BDSM gear, they resemble members of the counterculture, specifically punks and sadomasochists, and due to their large male dominance, comparisons have been made to the gay underworld (different castes are even referred to as gayboy-berserkers and smegma-crazies). One Marauder, Wez (Vernon Wells), is plainly presented as homosexual; his lover, the Golden Youth (Jerry O’Sullivan), always accompanying him on the back of his motorcycle. However, it is questionable whether he has given his consent, as he is held in chains, and the immoral acts of the Marauders, including rape and torture, suggest he could be an unwilling slave. Like the Settlers, the Marauders have a leader; the Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). His name is also indicative of his position, being by far their largest and most muscular member; suggesting he gained his position by being the biggest and most powerful rather than through democracy. A lack of democracy is also shown as he is referred to as “Lord Humungus” and acts as an autocrat; the Marauders being ruled by his word alone, which he imposes through force, such as when he subdues Wez (“We do it my way”). Although he feigns diplomacy with the Settlers in an attempt to gain the oil, speaking eloquently and presenting his terms as being entirely reasonable, he only uses threat of force, making him come across as a corrupt politician or leader of an invading power.

Humungus

Due to their appearance, it has been suggested that the Marauders being depicted as the ‘bad guys’ and the Settlers as the ‘good guys’ implies that the counterculture and homosexuality are deviant, wrong, and a threat to conservative values that must be upheld. I don’t believe it was ever the intention to present homosexuality or the counterculture as immoral. The film’s writers have been quoted as saying they changed the sex of the Golden Youth and the Warrior Woman to show sexuality has become interchangeable in the future; a progressive view that would have been helped if one of the Settlers was also presented as homosexual. A point is made of showing the Marauders are not exclusively homosexual with a shot of a heterosexual couple having sex as their tent cover is unexpectedly pulled off, and they are also seen to rape a female Settler. As for the counterculture, director George Miller is a known rock music enthusiast who would later cast punk icon Angry Anderson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985), making any counterculture criticism highly unlikely. Instead, criticism is aimed at life without purpose beyond selfish indulgence. This lifestyle is embodied by the Marauders, who live nihilistically, selfishly feeding off others as they drive around the desert in search of gasoline so they can drive around some more and endlessly repeat the same pointless cycle. They are consumers in endless pursuit of empty commodities, and this intemperance is expressed further by their sexual indulgence (sex being empty to them as they commit rape and treat people as commodities), moral dearth, and aesthetic relation to the hedonistic rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. The commodity they value most of all is, of course, oil. The opening narration reveals a fuel crisis started the war that caused the apocalypse, and Miller has gone on record as saying the film was influenced by oil wars. This further establishes the Marauders as an invading power and Humungus as a political leader; connecting them more with the establishment than the counterculture. A scene cut from the original script reveals Pappagallo’s origins as chief executive of a major oil company, who with the advent of the apocalypse decides to flee into the wasteland with the other Settlers.

Whole Earth

The ‘Whole Earth Catalogue’ was a counterculture magazine focusing on self-sufficiency and, of course, solar energy is an inexhaustible alternative energy. Pappagallo’s possession of counterculture literature and rejection of our world’s dependence on fossil fuel, and the Marauders reliance on it, further establishes the Marauders as the true establishment figures while relating the Settlers with the counterculture.

Wez

The first film in the Mad Max saga, Mad Max (dir. Miller, 1979), sees our protagonist, Max (Mel Gibson), caught between two ways of living; his conventional family life, and his job as a police officer, which he is desperate to leave for fear of becoming as bad as the criminals he faces.

MAX: “I’m scared, Fif. You know why? It’s that rat circus out there. I’m beginning to enjoy it. Look, any longer out on that road and I’m one of them, ya know? A terminal crazy. Only I’ve got a bronze badge to say I’m one of the good guys.

By the end of the film, we see Max’s fears come true as the murder of his wife and child by a berserk motorcycle gang sends him on a revenge-fueled rampage. The film endorses Max’s traditional family life and presents his transformation into an outlaw as a tragedy, impossible to escape in a world that operates via the law, ‘survival of the fittest’. Miller is said to be disapproving of its moral implications, and Mad Max 2 can be seen as addressing his grievances.

TERRY HAYES (co-writer Mad Max 2): “The first one (Mad Max) was a very bleak revenge story. I don’t think that George (Miller) particularly enjoys, now looking back, the sensibilities captured in that film. The second one (Mad Max 2) was a more generous film.”

Mad Max 2 expands the themes of Mad Max, as again we see Max pulled between two lifestyles, those of the family-like Settlers and the selfish, scavenging Marauders. At first, Max seems to have more in common with the Marauders. He appears like a punk – dressed in ripped black leather, sporting spiky hair – and scavenges the wastelands for gasoline. He mistreats the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence); enslaving him, lying to him, feeding his dog while the Captain goes hungry, and refusing to release him when he has no further use for him. He rescues one of the Settlers but only so he can trade him for gasoline (“I’m just here for the gasoline”) and is accused by the Settlers of being a Marauder (“For all we know he’s one of them”), a “parasite” and “Trading in human flesh”. It appears Max will find salvation through embracing the Settlers’ way of life, as the opening narration sets up the film as the story of his recovery (“he learned to live again”), and after he retrieves the tanker so the Settlers can escape the compound with the gasoline, he is invited to drive it and join them on their journey to paradise. Max refuses the Settlers’ offer, preferring their arrangement to stay purely business and to leave with a reward of oil. Pappagallo attempts to persuade him, criticising his lack of purpose and his coveting of empty commodities.

PAPPAGALLO: “What’re you looking for? C’mon, Max, everyone’s looking for something. You happy out there, are you? ‘Ey? Wandering? One day blurring into another? You’re a scavenger, Max. You’re a maggot. D’ya know that? You’re living off the corpse of the old world.”

The offer to join the Settlers provides Max with the opportunity to embrace the family life he lost. The Feral Kid (Emil Minty) is even set up as a surrogate son for him, as they form a close bond and Max gifts him with a music box that plays ‘happy birthday’ – a song symbolic of childhood and family bliss – and it seems the film is endorsing a traditional family lifestyle as Mad Max did. However, the film makes clear it rejects the survival of the fittest mentality of Mad Max, with Wez being established as a dark parallel to Max when the Feral Kid kills the Golden Youth and Wez is consumed by a desire to avenge his loved one (as Max was), that is encouraged by Humungus.

HUMUNGUS: “Be still, my dog of war. I understand your pain. We all lost someone we love. But we do it my way. We do it my way. Fear is our ally. The gasoline will be oursThen you shall have your revenge.”

Humungus’ dialogue parallels a speech Pappagallo gives to Max. Unlike Humungus, Pappagallo condemns being consumed by loss, pushing Max to overcome the deaths of his loved ones and aspire for betterment like the Settlers instead of stagnating like the Marauders.

PAPPAGALLO: “Oh, so that’s it. You lost your family. That make you something special, does it? Do you think you’re the only one that’s suffered? We’ve all been through it in here. But we haven’t given up. We’re still human beings, with dignity. But you, you’re out there with the garbage. You’re nothing.”

Upon refusing to join the Settlers and leaving for the wasteland, Max is hunted down by the Marauders, his car is destroyed, he is severely injured, and his dog is killed. The injuries he receives can be seen as a symbolic death and the surreal sequence featuring his rescue by the Gyro Captain and elevation into the sky on the autogyro an ascension. Once returned to the compound, Max revives and changes his mind about driving the tanker, offering to drive it for free; sacrificing himself so the Settlers can reach paradise. This is symbolic of his rebirth; after again losing everything, instead of choosing revenge, he has embraced the Settlers’ communality, realising it’s the only way to survive. Again, it seems the film is siding with the Settlers, as Max has taken Pappagallo’s advice, found purpose and moved on from his loss, and his depiction as a Christ-like figure connects him to the Settlers’ religious ideals.

Road-Warrior-Bestride

After agreeing to drive the tanker, Max is embroiled in a final epic chase with the Marauders, which ends with the tanker crashing and tipping over. Max survives and goes to inspect the wreckage. It is revealed that the tanker was filled with sand and was purely a diversion for the Marauders so the Settlers could escape with the gasoline. From Max’s reaction, it’s clear he was unaware he was being used as a decoy, meaning he was lied to by the Settlers. This adds ambiguity to the assertion that the Settlers’ lifestyle is unquestionably righteous. Although Pappagallo shows he is not a hypocrite, as he dies alongside the Warrior Woman defending the tanker, showing he will fight for his beliefs, his religious conviction has led him to exploit and lie to an outsider to further his cause. The Settlers’ prejudice against outsiders is previously hinted at. They take Max’s car and are untrusting and hostile towards him until he proves useful, and when he initially decides to leave with his reward, one Settler suggests they keep his car. They welcome the Gyro Captain into their society, but again, it is only when he proves his usefulness, and after he is partnered with Lusty Girl, suggesting his acceptance was due to their union; evoking outdated religious traditions. It’s true the ending is presented by the Narrator (Harold Baigent) as optimistic and happy, with Max becoming a legendary hero of the Settlers’ folklore, but at the film’s conclusion, the Narrator is revealed to be an elderly Feral Child, who went on to become the Settlers’ leader and form the Great Northern Tribe. This means this is the Settlers’ retelling of the story and, therefore, biased, meaning the betrayed Max could be recast in their legends as a noble martyr instead of an oblivious pawn. Plus, it’s possible the Great Northern Tribe is not an entirely benevolent one. However, a more positive outlook, in keeping with Max’s Christ-like depiction, would be that in sacrificing himself for the Settlers’ sins (betrayal/prejudice), he inspired the formation of a new society based on his altruism.

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It’s a climax that begs us to ask questions, as although some aspects of the Settlers’ lifestyle seem entirely praiseworthy, doubt is cast on the conservatism that prevents them from achieving universal communality. So, instead of presenting a story about a man having to choose between two ways of life, it’s exposed as one about a man who chose his own path. And although he was adopted as a messiah, we know he was just a man, proving faith does not have a monopoly on amelioration and morality and that just one man, one ordinary man, can make a difference.

Just one man

More Mad Max!

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max

Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Insect-like Conformity (The Ark in Space)

The Ark in Space is a Doctor Who serial from 1975. Although never acknowledged as an influence, it has a great deal in common with Alien (dir. Scott, 1979), despite being broadcast four years earlier. Whereas Alien focuses on issues of gender equality, The Ark in Space’s central theme is of nonconformism: a favourite of mine. This post will analyse the serial, focusing on the depth and effectiveness of its central theme and its similarities with Alien.

The Ark in Space sees the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his two companions, Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian  Marter), arrive aboard a space station in the far future named the Ark. Here the last remnants of humanity have fled Earth to avoid an apocalyptic catastrophe. As in Alien, the humans rest in cryogenic chambers. Sarah accidentally gets caught in the Ark’s automated indoctrination process and joins the crew in stasis. During the process, a recorded message plays, which refers to Sarah as “sister”. This use of family titles draws comparisons with the ship’s computer from Alien named ‘Mother’. In Alien, this implies a future genderless society where human merger with technology has led to the termination of traditional gender roles. In The Ark in Space, it implies assimilation into an artificial family unit and loss of identity. The Doctor and Harry stumble upon a room where a record of human knowledge has been catalogued and stored on microfilm. The explorers then discover the sleeping humans filed and stacked together in their cryogenic chambers, resembling the stored data. This indicates that the human race has now become no more than an assemblage of accepted knowledge and lacks any free thought. The Doctor gives a speech in which he seems to praise the human race’s aptitude for survival, but both his delivery and the incidental music bear an ominous tone. This suggests, as much as the Doctor respects the human race, he fears the lengths they will go to in the name of survival.

With the arrival of the Doctor and his companions, the Ark’s systems are activated, and the sleeping crew begin to awake. First to awake is Vira (Wendy Williams). She uses disciplined, characterless language – showing her loss of identity – and is immediately abrasive towards the Doctor and Harry. She is critical of the Doctor’s flamboyant speech, claiming it proves he is a regressive, and evaluates people in a machine-like manner, indicating that conformity results in a lack of creativity and personality. When she is notified that Sarah has been trapped in a cryogenic chamber and her life is at risk, she asks, “Is she of value?“, indicating that humanity’s conformity has also robbed it of its compassion and ability to appreciate anyone beyond what practical use they may have in their established system. Vira has a prejudiced attitude towards the adventurers, seeing them as unsophisticated, inferior, and not to be trusted. The crew’s leader, Noah (Kenton Moore), who is referred to as prime unit”, again showing the crew’s machine-like conformity, has an even more severe attitude. He sees them as being a threat to the human race’s genetic pool and orders them destroyed. Like the Ark, Noah takes his name from the Biblical tale in which God murders all humans he deems undesirable. His talk of regressive elements being eliminated to maintain the purity of the human race also evokes a historical case of eugenics, namely, the Nazis’ ‘final solution’. The Nazis exterminated approximately ten million people they judged ‘inferior races’ to prevent them mixing with what they deemed the ‘master race’. The Doctor references such holocausts in his earlier speech and his fears about the lengths humans will go to in the name of survival are also connected to the ‘final solution’, as the Nazis used Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory to justify their atrocities. The Ark’s crew have adopted similar principles. Noah is said to have been pair-bonded” with Vira, and although they do show limited affection for each other, the term ‘pair-bonding’ suggests this future society’s mates are selected for them to keep the genetic pool pure, and love is no longer a factor to consider. The crew’s desire to become the master race is also suggested via the body prints on their capsules. These resemble the fascist statues that decorated Nazi Germany, which were meant to depict the perfect physical form.

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The Doctor must face not only the threat of the hostile crew but also a far greater enemy lurking in the shadows of the Ark; the Wirrn, a species that, like the Alien, presents a monstrous vision of what humanity’s sin will result in. A gruesome embodiment of the horror of conformity, the Wirrn are a species of identical giant insects that have infiltrated the Ark. Like the Alien, they also impregnate a human host, gestate inside them, and go through various distinct stages of development; a larval stage in which they resemble giant maggots, a mutation stage in which they are crossed with their human host, and their final insect form. Also like the Alien, they absorb human attributes and intelligence, but unlike the Alien, they’re able to share thoughts. When Noah is impregnated by the Wirrn and begins to mutate, his mind becomes one with the Wirrn and previously infected crew member, Dune, professing, “I am Dune”. The Wirrn’s hive mind presents them as being symbolic of conformity, as not only are they physically identical, but they all think as one. The Ark crew’s loss of identity and desire to function as a single entity shows they aspire to a similar insect-like conformity. Other comparisons are drawn between the humans and the Wirrn, showing the Wirrn represent a vision of what humanity will become if it cannot break free of conformity. The humans live by their accepted knowledge, while the Wirrn all think as one. The humans have systematically selected sexual partners without considering affection, in an attempt to create a master race. Affection is definitely not a consideration for the Wirrn, who reproduce by forcibly impregnating their unwilling victims, using sex to advance their species. The Wirrn have a queen, while the humans also have a female ruler: the Earth High Minister (Gladys Spencer). The humans display insect-like discipline, organisation and impassiveness, and their cryogenic chamber resembles a giant insect hive. Furthermore, Noah, the crew’s most stringent conformist, literally becomes a Wirrn. The Wirrn plan to infect the entire crew, transforming them all into insects. The crew’s battle with the Wirrn represents a symbolic struggle with conformity. Noah is at the centre of this struggle, as he fights to break free from the Wirrn’s control, as it eats away at his humanity both physically and mentally.

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The crew must literally overcome conformity to defeat the Wirrn. Crew member Libri (Christopher Masters) is able to recognise Noah as being infected by the Wirrn before he mutates because of a subconscious impression; an illogical instinct that breaks from his strict programming. Although the Ark has kept vast records of human knowledge, it only contains intelligence that has been deemed useful by their conformist regime. The Doctor uses knowledge based on gipsy superstition, i.e. the belief that the eye retains its final image after death, to carry out an experiment that gives him useful knowledge of the Wirrn. This is not the kind of information that would be stored in the Ark’s records, as the fascist-leaning humans would most likely consider it the imaginings of regressives: gipsies being vilified by the Nazis. And yet it helps the Doctor and the crew fight the Wirrn; proving the benefits of diversity. The Doctor hatches a plot to lure the Wirrn into a shuttle and transport them off the Ark. Once the Wirrn are lured inside, the Doctor must unlock the shuttle manually from the docking port, meaning that when it launches, he will be killed in the blast. At this point, crew member Rogin (Richardson Morgan) sacrifices his life, staying behind instead of the Doctor. Rogin giving up his life for the Doctor seems a little far-fetched, but it does have some setup and fits with the serial’s overall theme. With his first lines of dialogue, There’s been a snitch-up”, Rogin conveys an idiosyncratic personality, showing his willingness to break free from conformity. His last line, “You don’t want trouble with the space technicians’ union”, indicates a left-wing political stance that is at odds with the crew’s fascist ideology. His illogical self-sacrifice is a sign of strong independent thought; a heroic deed that could only be possible by breaking free from the restrictions of conformity.

The Ark In Space

As the Wirrn escape in the shuttle, the Doctor theorises that even though he was fully mutated, a vestige of Noah’s human spirit remained and he helped lead the Wirrn onto the shuttle. The Ark then receives a communication from Noah. He bids Vira a sad goodbye, suggesting he held a love for her that was unable to be expressed under their conformist regime, and the shuttle blows up, destroying the Wirrn. Noah’s message confirms he’s broken free from the Wirrn’s control. Like Rogin, his rejection of conformity has allowed him to sacrifice himself; a sacrifice carried out for the woman he loved and the good of all humanity. The Doctor and his companions say goodbye to Vira, who laughs and smiles for the first time, now that she and the rest of the Ark have been freed from the oppression of conformity.

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